The Town of Antigonish Fire Department is upgrading its fleet and, in collaboration with Town Council, has devised a strategy to ensure that its vehicles remain safe and current for years to come. At its January, 2017, meeting, Town of Antigonish Council passed a motion approving the purchase of a new pumper tanker fire vehicle for the Town of Antigonish Fire Department. The purchase comes following extensive cooperation between the Fire Department and the Town’s Fire Committee to agree to the specifications required. The result was the purchase of an up-to-date pumper-tanker valued at $575,983 (excluding taxes). The new pumper tanker will replace a tanker truck and a pumper truck, which are 31 and 38 years old, respectively.
“This purchase is a big step forward for both the Town and its Fire Department,” noted the Chair of the Fire Committee, Deputy Mayor Willie Cormier. “It was a cooperative process all the way through, and sets a successful precedent to refer back to when we need to make other big-ticket purchases like this in the future.” In the past, the Town has found the cost of replacing fire vehicles to be a significant burden on the existing tax base. To counter this, the Town has maintained fire vehicles beyond the useful life of 25 years recommended by the Fire Underwriters Survey – the primary service provider to insurance underwriters in Canada that determines the fire insurance grade for a community. After discussions with the Fire Department, Council determined that the practice of maintaining trucks beyond their recommended useful life has the potential to compromise both fire fighter and citizen safety and so could no longer continue.
With this in mind, Council and the Fire Department began examining funding options that would allow the Town to more strategically manage its Fire fleet and ensure the safety of its dedicated volunteer firefighters, as well as the broader community, well into the future.
In July, 2016, the Town’s Chief Administrative Officer, Jeffrey Lawrence, began researching funding options. His findings revealed that a significant amount of properties (approximately 30%) are exempt from taxes, yet still benefit from municipal fire protection. In fact, these exempt properties can often require specialized fire fighting equipment, such as aerial vehicles. This discovery led Mr. Lawrence to introduce the idea to Council of implementing a Fire Levy to help bridge the revenue gap.
“The authority to implement a Fire Levy stems from provincial legislation, the Municipal Government Act, and states that municipalities have the ability to levy a Fire Protection Rate,” said Mr. Lawrence. “The rate,” he continued, “is applied to all assessable property in the area served by a water system in the municipality in order to recover that part of the cost of the water system that is attributable to fire protection.” Under the Act, no property is exempt, except property of Her Majesty in the right of the Province, unless exempt by by-law. “This is a common method that many municipalities in the province use to secure funding for their Fire Departments,” he noted.
When asked how it would be applied for the Town of Antigonish, Mr. Lawrence stated that “the endorsement of the Fire Levy is tied to the Water Utility fire protection charge and would result in revenues of $155,000 to the Town based upon current data. For 2017/18, this roughly equates to an area rate of 2.6 cents per $100 of assessment.” The base for the levy would be broader than the taxable assessment base, as it includes much of the exempt assessment in the Town.
While it satisfied the funding gap, this was not a move treated lightly by Council. “When approached with the idea,” noted Mayor Laurie Boucher, “our Council would only go forward if it was tied to a vehicle replacement plan.” Under the plan developed by the Mr. Lawrence, and endorsed by the Fire Committee, the revenue generated would be used to offset debt servicing charges for vehicles that would otherwise be funded through general taxes. “This levy,” she stated, “coupled with the vehicle replacement plan, ensures that those properties who require fire protection services are paying for the service received and the Town’s Fire Department has a stable source of funding to maintain a fleet that is current and safe so that they can continue to provide high-quality fire services to the residents of Antigonish.”
The levy will come into effect in the upcoming 2017/18 fiscal year.
If you have questions regarding the impacts of the levy on your property, please visit Town Hall (274 Main St., Antigonish, NS, B2G 1C4) or contact:
Mayor, Laurie Boucher
Ph.: 902-867-5577; cell: 902-870-7795
Chief Administrative Officer, Jeffrey Lawrence